Bhutan, which emerged as a rare Covid success story in South Asia, will soon move away from its existing zero-Covid policy, Prime Minister Lotay Tshering announced on Wednesday, as the country plans a gradual shift to the “living with the virus” policy like any other country
Bhutan, which emerged as a rare Covid success story in South Asia, will soon move away from its existing zero-Covid policy, Prime Minister Lotay Tshering announced on Wednesday, as the country plans a gradual shift to the “living with the virus” policy like any other country. Despite having a limited health infrastructure the country managed to keep its Covid cases extremely low since the pandemic first began in March 2020. Almost all people above the age of 11 years have been fully vaccinated with a double dose of vaccines.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Lotay Tshering said the government will ease its zero-Covid policy by mid-April when the country is likely to complete the vaccination of children aged between 5 to 11 years, reported The Bhutanese newspaper.
However, around 60,000 children below age 5 will still be unvaccinated, which, officials admitted, remains an area of concern.
Since March 2020, when the pandemic began, Bhutan, a country of roughly 750,000, has been through four nationwide lockdowns, with the recent one after the emergence of Omicron cases, under its zero-Covid policy.
Several places, including in capital Thimphu, are still under significant restrictions as authorities try to contain the community spread of the Omicron virus. Despite the extremely high coverage of vaccination, Bhutan has not lowered its safety guard against the virus, and still maintains a 14-day quarantine measure even for vaccinated people entering the country.
Interestingly, Bhutan still has quarantine measures for its own people traveling internally from high-risk to low-risk zones. Only four people, all with comorbidity conditions, have died of the Covid-19.
The prolonged restrictions, especially after the Omicron spread, have taken a toll on what has already been a stressed economy. The low hospitalization rate, partly because of the widespread vaccination coverage, further gave the authorities the confidence to ease its zero-Covid policy.
Labour shortage, mostly due to strict border measures, has hampered several development and infrastructure projects in the country.
“We will plan and allow the import of laborers but only once we vaccinate our children. We need 20,000 to 25,000 more workers,” Prime Minister Tshering was quoted as saying by The Bhutanese.
Officials, however, have not ruled out the future lockdown scenario completely. They said in case of a sudden surge in the cases requiring hospitalization, the government could enforce another localized or general lockdown.